Rainbow-washing, as defined by the Urban Dictionary is:
“The act of using or adding rainbow colorsand/or imagery to advertising, apparel, accessories, landmarks, etc, in order to indicate progressive support for LGBTQ equality—but with a minimum of effort or pragmatic result.”
In other words, slapping rainbows on everything without actually doing much to support the community at all.
To those who are part of the community, seeing imagery that is so widely recognized as the symbol of LGBTQIA+ pride can be encouraging. It may feel like a step forward from the days where companies wouldn’t be caught dead supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. But when are all these Pride-related promos genuine attempts at supporting the LBGTQIA+ community and when are they rainbow-washing?
A study by Reboot Online found that, out of the 122 companies who visibly supported the LGBTQIA+ community during Pride month, only 64% of the companies with campaigns donated to meaningful causes supporting the community. Naturally, this caused a stir within the LGBTQIA+ community.
I addition to this, it appears that some multi-national companies pick and choose where to show their values. The image below shows some perfect examples of this. These brands have deliberately chosen to opt out of displaying rainbow imagery, and in so doing their support for the LGBTQIA+ community, on their social media accounts in the middle east. These kinds of actions make you question how genuine their values really are and whether it’s more of a marketing stunt. Particularly where the topic of deviating from heterosexuality is a taboo. It begs the question, should brands have one point of view which is upheld across all markets or should their views change across markets to reflect those of the country they are in?
Rainbowfying everything and creating a Pride campaign when June rolls around is a quick win for brands. ‘Borrowing’ the symbol, seems to downplay the challenges and discrimination that individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community face on a daily basis. It could also overshadow genuine efforts by other organisations. On the flip side, Pride month is the perfect opportunity to show support for the LQBTQIA+ community and spread awareness and acceptance. What better way to make it obvious than painting everything in multi-colours? It’s certainly hard to ignore. Even if performative support comes before genuine support, it does help to keep the conversation alive.